Pass the popcorn: Cineplex sees concession sales soar to record heights

TORONTO – Moviegoers chowed down on more popcorn and burgers at Cineplex theatres over the winter, helping concession sales climb to record heights as audiences took in Hollywood hits like “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Canada’s largest movie theatre company said Friday that average concession spending jumped 2.6 per cent to $5.18 per patron as customers responded to a broader selection of food options.

Some theatres recently started cooking a new selection of burgers and wraps alongside traditional favourites like popcorn and chocolate, while Cineplex has opened more VIP theatres, which let audiences order from a menu of appetizers and alcoholic beverages.

“We are offering more choices and making them in meal sizes people can consume in the theatre,” chief executive Ellis Jacob said in an interview.

“With the addition of VIP, we’ve got a couple of new locations, and that will continue to build the revenue per person.”

Jacob said concession sales rose even further last weekend, above $6 per patron, as audiences lined up for the opening of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” across the country.

During the first quarter, Cineplex (TSX:CGX) profits more than doubled to $10.5 million, or 17 cents per share, as several hit titles eclipsed the underperforming slate from the same period last year.

Overall box office revenue declined slightly to an average of $8.90 per patron.

Even though “American Sniper” connected with Canadian audiences, it still managed to fall short of its astonishing performance in the U.S., where it shattered box-office records for the winter months.

About six per cent of North American box-office revenue for “American Sniper” came from Canada, well below the 10 per cent most films bring in, Jacob said. During the same period, British title “The Imitation Game” pulled in about 15 per cent of the box-office revenue, he added.

“It was a little bit of a ladies’ quarter,” Jacob said, pointing to “Cinderella” as another successful title during the period.

Overall attendance at Cineplex theatres edged up by 1.5 per cent, but the company said it was affected by extreme winter weather in parts of Atlantic Canada and fewer 3D movies compared with the same time last year.

Total revenue at Cineplex increased 3.5 per cent to $289.8 million.

Jacob says the company’s efforts to diversify its business have put Cineplex in a good position, and dividends to shareholders will be going up by four per cent, starting with the payment made in June.

Follow @dj_friend on Twitter.